ORHS Transitions to Remote Learning

This article was written by multiple students in an attempt to cover the many ways remote learning has impacted the Oyster River community. Kaleigh Boulanger, Ella Gianino, Emily Hamilton, Tess Parrott, Maria Shuba, and Elise Wollheim contributed to the writing of this article and Chase Amarosa captured the featured image. Each bolded section highlights a different subpoint of the effects on the community, so feel free to skip to the sections that interest you or enjoy the article as a whole. 

Oyster River schools are now twelve days into remote learning, with a minimum of four more weeks and the possibility of this closure continuing through the rest of the school year. Remote learning began during a three week closure ordered on March 15th by superintendent Jim Morse. Governor Chris Sununu has now extended the statewide closure until at least May 4th as part of the efforts to avoid social contact and further spread of COVID-19.

This has left students and staff alike forced to adapt to new ways of learning, posing both academic and emotional challenges. With ORCSD schools now closed until at least May 4th, students and staff at ORHS are continuing to adapt by utilizing new ways to communicate with each other, submit assignments, and work together to continue learning new content under these unprecedented circumstances.  

ORHS and the ORCSD Continue to Adapt to Unprecedented Remote Learning 

On March 19th, 2020, ORCSD started remote learning. With a new daily schedule at ORHS, final exams cancelled, changes to the school district calendar, and a proposed new grading system for the fourth quarter, the Oyster River community continues to adapt to this unforeseen turn of events.

For the first two weeks of remote learning at ORHS, students and teachers followed a five day schedule with half of their classes each day. Based on feedback from students, parents, and faculty, the ORHS administration decided to change the schedule to a four day learning week with Friday to be used as a day for relearning and reassessment. Along with this change in daily schedule, the administration also decided to cancel final exams for students, to help reduce student and teacher stress during this time. The final days of the school year will allow teachers to choose whether to teach or give final summative assessments. 

Given the changing situation, the school board will discuss the district calendar and fourth quarter grading at ORHS at their next virtual meeting on April 15th. During the school board meeting on April 1st, it was decided that April break would be used as an academic week and that long weekends would be added throughout the rest of the year instead. However, no further changes have been made to the calendar, including changes to the last day of school. Next school board meeting, Morse will propose a new district calendar, which could include waiving snow days, adding long weekends, and ending the year earlier than originally planned, that will be voted on then by the school board. 

The other topic of discussion was implementing a pass/fail system for quarter four at ORHS. If passed by the school board, this would mean that for year long classes, students would earn a P for quarter four if they pass that quarter. The P would have no impact on overall GPA and the final grade for year long classes would be an average of the first, second, and third quarter. 

As for semester long classes, students would earn a P for quarter four if they pass the class. Unlike year long classes, the final grade would be either a P or the grade earned quarter three, which will be something that parents and students would have the choice of one week after the posting of quarter three grades. 

On April 2nd, ORHS principal Suzanne Filippone sent out a survey to ORHS students, parents, and faculty asking whether they would prefer the credit/no credit grading method for the fourth quarter or the traditional grading method. Based on the feedback from this survey, Filippone will propose the chosen system of grading on April 15th at the school board meeting. 

The New Technology in Use 

After the New Hampshire State’s Board of Education initially shut down all New Hampshire schools for two weeks, Oyster River made the transition to remote learning through Schoology, a familiar platform introduced earlier this year, along with Microsoft’s Team Meetings. Teachers have had to become more creative in posting lessons and assignments, while students are working independently from home.

Teachers now have the option to use synchronous or asynchronous learning, or both. Asynchronous learning is where teachers can post lessons or assignments for students to access anytime, while in synchronous learning, teachers can give live instruction to their class via Microsoft Teams. Teachers were given three teacher workshop days to formulate plans for online learning, adjusting how they would typically deliver a lesson or give out a test. 

Teachers are scheduling Teams Meetings with their classes to stay on top of the curriculum, as well as keeping some of the personal face-to-face learning aspects that students are used to. The interactions have both audio and video, similar to FaceTime or Skype. Some students find this helps to keep the interactive nature of the class, but others find it distracting. “It would honestly be better if we met in smaller groups, because in one big class it’s so distracting, and it’s not like a real class,” said Alana Eisenberg (‘21).

How Students are Affected by Remote Learning

This sudden change has forced students to adapt to new ways of learning. “Not everyone learns this way. This is hard. This is a very difficult way to learn with remote learning and not having contact with human beings on a regular basis,” said Filippone. 

One issue that students are finding is the timing of the new learning process. “I’m a little stressed about independently managing assignments and their due dates as they’re not necessarily connected to the class time,” said Corum Nichols (‘21). Their time management and academic integrity are put to the test as students are required to do the same tests and labs at home. Students are expected to turn in all assignments completed to the best of their abilities by their due dates, although teachers are being understanding of technical issues. 

Academic Integrity is an Issue with Students Working at Home  

Annalise Lanoue (‘21) was confident teachers would pull through and teach as always, but she expressed concerns about online testing. Lanoue said there isn’t a way to regulate it besides the honor code, which she described as “unreliable.” Some teachers, like Barbara Milliken, a French teacher at ORHS, said that they “can’t worry about cheating” right now, with the honor code being one of the few ways to protect academic integrity.

“It’s a personal choice that every individual makes. And if they’re going to cheat, then that’s the way they are leading their life. I can’t control that and I’m not going to be the policeman on that,” explained Milliken. “If I catch it I’m going to deal with it, but I would really hope that in a respectful environment where I’m trying to educate people, that if they’re choosing to cheat they feel bad enough about it somewhere deep down.”

Beyond academic integrity issues, Trevor Savage (‘21) brought up another issue. He explained that virtual learning is less effective, since students “won’t be able to be with [teachers] and physically go over what [they] are stuck on.”

Many Students are Quickly Adapting to this New Way of Teaching

Many students have faced academic, technological, and emotional struggles, however, many are adapting quickly to the new situation. 

“The transition has been pretty smooth, because as my mom has said, ‘we were born with a mouse in our hands’ so it was pretty easy for us to catch the drift of Microsoft Teams,” said Katie Mercier (‘21). Most students aren’t concerned about communication with teachers, but opinions vary when it comes to concerns about the actual academic effects of remote learning.

Mercier believes the switch to remote learning brings both positive and negative impacts. She said, “it’s gonna throw a lot of responsibility into the students’ hands,” because you need to remind yourself to do your work. She went on to explain that although the students will learn time management skills, “it probably will negatively impact students’ learning.” Mercier said teachers won’t be able to pass out as much material as would have, had class been in school.

Students Struggle with Productivity and Distraction While Working from Home 

There are many students who feel as though working from home has led to a lapse in their productivity, including Charlotte Merritt (‘22). “I actually have found it really hard to manage my schedule and do my work because it’s not like you’re sitting in a classroom. You’re sitting on a bed, or you’re sitting at a desk… My brain sort of switches off.” She said that her productivity and desire to learn are negatively impacted by being in a place where she normally relaxes. This feeling is shared by many of her classmates, including Rachel Rowley (‘22).  

“I’m in my comfort zone, and when I’m in my comfort zone I’m so relaxed that I want to do what I want to do. When I’m doing work in a place where I normally relax, my brain contradicts itself. It’s hard to focus,” Rowley said. Even those who now find focusing in an online setting simple, initially struggled with it. “At first it was really confusing because it felt hard to pay attention and take things seriously,” said Grant Kasper (‘22).

Celeste Best, digital learning specialist at ORHS, agreed, saying that this has been one of the biggest struggles she has noticed in students. “It is also hard to lose the structure that we have all been used to. At home, it is easy to get distracted to find other things to do. At school, there certainly were distractions, but they were different when you are at home and you can easily take a nap instead of doing class work.”

Loss of Social Environment
Losing the structure of a classroom is impactful to students, not just because they are distracted, but also because of their removal from a highly social environment. “Closing schools has impacted students by imposing a social quarantine removing them from their friends, their classmates, and their teachers. Humans are social by nature and want to be together. Closing schools is a dramatic departure from the tradition that schools bring people together,” said Morse.

Merritt agrees with him. “You see these people every single day, and you form all these bonds… The biggest challenge of the transition was the people.” She said that she misses her classmates, but has gained a more comprehensive appreciation for Oyster River High School and the people in it through her time away from the classroom.  

“I do miss my friends,” said Rowley. She, however, does not want to focus on that, and instead wants to, “focus on the positive things, like how much I really like having my own schedule and doing my own thing.” 

Now, students have a lot more freedom to manage their work during the day. However, some students were finding that they were having to put in a lot of extra time to stay on top of their work. 

Based on feedback from students about workload, one change that was made was changing the school week to four days, with Friday as a day for relearning and reassessing. “One of the things that I’m hearing from kids is that they are working after the 3:30 period. My hope is that with Friday, kids can get the help that they need from their teachers while they are working,” said Filippone. 

Based on feedback she has already received from students and faculty about the new schedule, Filippone said, “there are people that are worried that kids are going to be more disconnected if they don’t talk to teachers on that day, so we talked about adding an advisory in the morning as a possibility [in the future].”

How Teachers Are Affected 

While the new schedule will ideally help with student workload, it will also be used as a day for teachers to prepare. Before the May 4th extension, Oyster River teachers only had three teacher workshop days to prepare students with content for the first three weeks. “This is not something that people have been trained for. If you are a classroom teacher, you don’t necessarily have all the training to go to remote learning like this,” said Filippone. 

Milliken added on to that saying, “in many ways, this new platform for us, even the most seasoned of teachers, is like becoming a new teacher all over again. I had to change absolutely everything I was doing,” she said. 

Now, with remote learning extended for at least another month, teachers are having to work more to get lessons and assignments together for their students. “At the start it was a survival mechanism to get through two weeks. Now, it is the new normal,” said Best. 

Differences in Departments 

One struggle that teachers are running into is the inequality in technological access. Because not every student has a tablet that they can show their work on, math teachers are finding it difficult to keep up with their students’ thinking processes. “There’s a vast inequity in technology access. I think the biggest challenge is that students are still able to demonstrate their understanding,” said Andrea Drake, a math teacher who has had to become creative with how she evaluates and teaches students.

Social studies and English teachers are met with other challenges, like keeping their classes discussion-based. Scott McGrath, a social studies teacher, said, “a significant part of my teaching involves discussion which doesn’t translate well to chat rooms, discussion boards, or even Microsoft Teams. I’ve had to rethink how I manage discussions and which topics and skills are most essential for my students to learn.” 

Teachers have had to become creative in the curriculum they choose to present, as well as how they teach it. Many are choosing to have small group video calls via Microsoft Teams instead of entire class meetings in order to focus on individuals, who can easily become left out due to Teams’ setup.

“It’s really easy for students to literally become invisible in a classroom, because on this platform the faces you see are the people that talk,” Milliken explained. Karen VanDyke, an AP social studies teacher at ORHS, spoke of similar occurrences in her classes; kids are turning off their videos or muting their mics. It’s much harder for people to jump into a discussion when no one can see that they want to talk–you can’t raise your hand like you would in a class. 

Drake, who is teaching two different math classes this semester to five classrooms, says that the inability to give the same help to students has given her a new way to create lessons and assignments. “Overall, I think everyone has kept an open mind and been creative with how they’re approaching teaching online.”

 Teachers have had mixed experiences with remote learning, dealing with similar technological issues as students. Milliken is trying to find the good in the situation. She has been able to focus on different students’ needs and abilities by creating small Teams groups for students to work in, as well as “making sure [students] can get those important skills for however long this lasts.”

Concern About Emotional Well-Being

While academic changes have been immense, many teachers worry about the emotional well-being of their students as much as they do about delivering lessons.

“I know for me, I want to check in emotionally, what are your struggles, what’s going on,” said Milliken, explaining that it is more important than ever for teachers to check in with students and their advisories. VanDyke, another teacher who likes to “check with the kids” about their days and lives, agrees with Milliken. “I’m really unsure of how people are gonna do in the long term, being so isolated,” VanDyke said.

The teachers definitely have grounds for their concerns, as students are complaining about not being able to go to school and talk face to face with teachers and their peers. Mercier explained that her day is missing the “daily talk,” the “what’s up?” that she is used to receiving from teachers. “Spending time with people and making mental connections with people [is important]. It really takes a toll on you if you’re alone for too long,” said Mercier. Remote learning has all but eliminated the opportunity for students to create new relationships and connections.

Teachers Continue to Remain Optimistic During These Times 

Despite the many academic and emotional challenges presented by remote learning, some teachers are confident that this is an excellent opportunity for students to learn. 

“I’m really excited,” said VanDyke. “I think kids are rising to the challenge. So far, they’ve been ready to get assignments and open to hearing what they’re going to be doing.” VanDyke further explained how remote learning will provide an opportunity for those who fell behind to catch up, since they now have more time to “dig deeper into things they may have glossed over.” 

Filippone said that the community has been appreciative of these extra measures having to be taken by teachers. “I really appreciate the tremendous support that people have been giving the school and the teachers, and because of that it has allowed us to have a smoother transition.”

Best agreed, saying, “the response to remote learning has been overwhelmingly positive given that a plan was devised and put into place in about 48 hours and teachers had only three days to learn how to do all of this. I think both teachers and students have been incredibly accepting of this new normal and both have been open to trying new things and figuring out together what works and what doesn’t.”

Teachers and students will continue to work together to overcome academic changes and emotional struggles with isolation. “We’re all going to have to help each other out through the whole thing,” said Milliken.

Currently, Oyster River schools will resume brick and mortar classes May 4th, however, many in the community anticipate for remote learning to continue until the end of the year. With that in mind, Best offered this piece of advice for getting through these unprecedented times. “Find someone that can help you or that can ask someone else for help on your part. None of us are mind readers, so if we don’t know what is wrong, it is hard to help. We are all going on this path together and none of us have ever been here before.”